Episode rankings

For the sake of posterity, here are my personal rankings of all 45 ‘classic era’ Columbo episodes that aired between 1968-78.

To aid your understanding of how highly I rate episodes, I’ve banded them into A, B, C, D and Z lists. These bands equate to:

  • A list = Unbelievably good television, preferable to all other shows ever made
  • B list = Outstanding entertainment, better than almost any TV ever made
  • C list = Would happily watch anytime they came on TV, but rarely select from DVD collection
  • D list = Lesser Columbo efforts with some redeeming features
  • Z list = Will only watch under extreme duress

You can read full reviews of any of the episodes by clicking on the links below.

  1. The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case
  2. Suitable for Framing
  3. Publish or Perish
  4. Double Shock
  5. Murder by the Book
  6. Negative Reaction
  7. A Friend in Deed
  8. Try & Catch Me
  9. Death Lends a Hand
  10. A Stitch in Crime
  11. Now You See Him
  12. Double Exposure
  13. Lady in Waiting
  14. Troubled Waters
  15. Any Old Port in a Storm
  16. Prescription: Murder 
  17. A Deadly State of Mind —B-List starts here—
  18. An Exercise in Fatality
  19. Make Me a Perfect Murder
  20. Identity Crisis
  21. Swan Song
  22. The Most Crucial Game
  23. By Dawn’s Early Light
  24. Etude in Black
  25. Candidate for Crime
  26. Greenhouse Jungle
  27. Playback
  28. Blueprint for Murder
  29. Forgotten Lady
  30. Requiem for a Falling Star
  31. Fade in to Murder
  32. Ransom for a Dead Man
  33. Murder Under Glass —C-List starts here—
  34. A Case of Immunity
  35. Dead Weight
  36. The Conspirators
  37. The Most Dangerous Match
  38. Lovely but Lethal 
  39. How to Dial a Murder
  40. Short Fuse ———D-List starts here—-
  41. A Matter of Honor
  42. Mind Over Mayhem
  43. Old Fashioned Murder
  44. Dagger of the Mind
  45. Last Salute to the Commodore —Z-List starts here

Once I’ve finished reviewing all of the ‘new’ Columbo episodes that aired from 1989-2003 I’ll create a master list with every episode ranked.

And don’t forget, you can vote for your very favourite Columbo episode at any time right here.


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71 thoughts on “Episode rankings

  1. This is a great site and I enjoy the list. I’m here to shout out “Murder Under Glass.” I’d say it’s pretty underrated just judging from the C-List position on the rankings. The final scene when Columbo cooks for the murderer and then explains how he suspected him 2 minutes after meeting him is hilarious. “Lieutenant, I wish you had been a chef.” Great writing. Thanks for all the great articles on the episodes.

     
  2. All right, here we go. After having watched every episode, with the very notable exceptions of the two pilots, I’ve determined the DEFINITIVE (sarcasm) A-list ranking.

    Grade A
    Death Lends a Hand
    Suitable for Framing
    Double Shock
    Publish or Perish
    A Friend in Deed

    Grade A-
    Murder by the Book
    Any Old Port in the Storm
    Negative Reaction
    Now You See Me
    The Conspirators

    I did not intentionally limit the A-level tier to 10 episodes, that’s just how it shook out. As is plainly evident, Cassidy is king in this humble viewer’s esteem. The last entry to squeeze in was Negative Reaction. The top B+ episode that just missed the boat was By Dawn’s Early Light. (My arm could be twisted on that one.) Interestingly (to me at least), while I actually quite enjoy most of the episodes with female killers, somehow none managed to crack through this glass ceiling.

    I continue to struggle to name a personal all-time favorite ep, and I have come to agree with several CP posters that is the result of no A+ Columbo existing. That hurts to type because the overall series is so brilliant, but the truth remains that each episode has some shortcoming impactful enough to prevent it from standing clearly atop the field. Nevertheless, as has been stated eloquently by our beloved site host, even a B episode of Columbo is still among the best TV ever produced.

     
  3. Odd to see The Conspirators not mentioned more often — my God the writing and silky smooth banter in that show (“What were you gonna blow up?” … “England!”). That along with A Friend In Deed, Try & Catch Me (with the wonderfully quaint Ruth Gordon as Abby), Candidate for Crime (“just get to the point…”) are in my top list.

     
    • The Conspirators is in my top 5 and close to no. 1. I love the dialogue, especially the “limerick contest” between Devlin and Columbo. The ending is one of the best, IMO, and I found it refreshing that in this case the murderer was working for a “higher purpose”–misguided as that might be.

       
      • I think that I
        could have
        won that contest with this one:

        The bustard’s a most exquisite fowl,
        With minimal reason to growl.
        He escape’s what would be,
        Illegitimacy,
        By the grace of a singular vowel.

        I also liked that one from Breaker
        Morant:

        There once was a man from Australia…

        Never mind.

         
  4. I tried to keep the list at 5 but that was basically impossible. 10 will suffice. Anything after #10 does it really matter at that point?? #1 is clearly my favorite but 2 thru 10 are only for the sake of listing — they’re all fantastic. Undoubtedly there will be one episode that I mistakenly forgot to include. 1970’s Columbo episodes were the best ones for me..

    1. A Friend In Deed
    2. Double Exposure
    3. Candidate For Crime
    4. Identity Crisis
    5. Exercise in Fatality
    6. Troubled Waters
    7. Swan Song
    8. Negative Reaction
    9. The Most Crucial Game
    10 A Stitch In Crime

     
    • and sure enough… I mistakenly left an episode off the list. “Now You See Him” with Jack Cassidy has to go on there. I think that list will eventually become 20..

       
  5. When are we gonna get the newer episode reviews(seasons 8-10)??? Been waiting 3 years, and havent seen any! Rest in peace mrs columbo, columbo goes to college, death hits the jackpot, portrat of murder, etc, etc… theres plenty of great reboot episodes that id LOVE to hear ur thoughts on…. so long as u dont absolutely trash em (cuz ik u hate the newer ones) i think it would be good to re-watch them and have an open mind, then give a nice review… i think all of the newer reboot episodes are much much better than dagger of the mind or last salute lmao

     
    • You can’t have been looking hard enough! I’ve reviewed 11 of the ‘new’ episodes so far, from Guillotine to Columbo Goes to College. This rankings list only covers the 70s episodes because I’ve reviewed all of them. Once I’ve reviewed all the ‘new’ episodes I’ll add them into this list, too.

       
  6. How about we discuss the top “cringeworthy” Columbo moments.
    There are many.
    One that stands out for me was in one of the final episodes…”Murder With Too Many Notes.”

    The villain is leading his orchestra in composing tunes for movies. Columbo comes in during the middle of rehearsal and the orchestra plays him a couple of examples. “Psycho” was one of them.
    But the worst was when they played the two notes of “Jaws.” Peter Falk becomes a complete caricature of a caricature and tries to guess the notes…..”Da fish, da fish! And the orchestra shouts out “Jaws!”
    So corny.
    Sadly, they became the norm in the reboot episodes of the 80s, 90s, and 00’s.

     
    • That jaws musical score scene is truly dreadful and worse still the episode on the whole is something of a stinker , back in the seventies in fade in to murder columbo walks on to a Hollywood studio where a mechanical jaws is in a pool and columbo
      asks the director is that the shark from jaws ? , Fade in to murder was a very average episode but that was a nice moment but to think it was the same columbo in that awful scene in too many notes saying the fish picture is disturbing .

       
    • Here is my Revised top 20 seventies after doing a hell of a lot of columbo watching over xmas , they had 3 episodes every weekday on 5USA and 8 two Sundays ago and the standard 7 yesterday

      1) Try and catch me
      2) Negative reaction
      3) Swan song
      4) Identity crisis
      5) The bye bye sky high IQ murder
      6) Troubled Waters
      7) Double Shock
      8) Now you See him
      9) Make me a Perfect Murder
      10) Double exposure
      11) playback
      12) How to dial a murder
      13) Death lends a hand
      14) A friend in deed
      15 ) Suitable for framing
      16) Blueprint for murder
      17) Prescription murder
      18) Publish or perish
      19 ) The most crucial Game
      20 ) A stitch in Crime

      Narrowly missing out are Etude in black , Murder by the book ,forgotten lady and candidate for crime .
      most people might be surprised that any old port in a storm doesn’t make my list that doesn’t mean to say I don’t like it but I’m just not a big fan of it or the conspirators which a lot of people like.

       
      • My 12 favorites (couldn’t pick 10…not quite in a particular order except for first two)

        *Try and Catch Me (Favorite)
        *Suitable for Framing (Second Favorite)
        *Publish or Perish
        *Double Exposure (favorite Culp)
        *Troubled Waters
        *Identity Crisis (favorite McGoohan)
        *The Bye Bye Sky High Murder Case
        *Publish or Perish (favorite Cassidy)
        *Forgotten Lady (most underrated)
        *Make Me a Perfect Murder (second most underrated)
        *Any Old Port in a Storm
        *An Exercise in Fatality

        Runners up:
        *Lady in Waiting
        *A Stitch in Crime

        Not as Enamored with as most Columbo fans:
        *Negative Reaction
        *Now You See HIm
        *A Friend Indeed

         
        • My only disagreement on your top 12 is “Forgotten Lady.” That one is enjoyable but it’s not top tier.

           
          • I love “Forgotten Lady” because it is so sad and poignant. Janet Leigh is an incredibly affecting villain and John Payne is the best (imho) supporting actor in any Columbo episode.

             
    • The reboot episodes are the worst. It was too bad because when it was announced to return, I was really excited. Columbo was reduced to a mess, a comic copy of the great detective. Music seemed to become more of a focus in episodes and I thought most of the choices they made were poor and detracted from the show. They also made it like every other cop show out there. The reboot was really disrespectful of the classic era and the greatness that was Columbo.

       
      • I both agree and disagree. While some of the reboots are absolutely dreadful, I think a few are terrific. I liked both Patrick McGoohan episodes (he is terrific in everything) as well as “Columbo Goes to College.” I also loved “Its All in the Game” which I found both funny and poignant. Faye Dunaway is maybe the most sympathetic villain in the entire era of the show.

         
          • Totally agree…glad someone else felt the same way as I did.!..and it never occurred to me that Lauren and Lisa were mother and daughter until the end. I am not as hard on the reboots as others. I would, for example, put this episode, both McGoohan reboot episodes and “Columbo Goes to College” way ahead of some of the weaker episodes of the 70s. And…I still don’t get why people think “Double Exposure” is so great.
            .

             
            • Whoops, again, I got the names of the episodes wrong. I think “Double Exposure” is terrific–my favorite of the Robert Culp as murderer. The one I can’t understand that seems to land in many Top 10s, including the Columbophile’s is “Negative Reaction.” I think Van Dyke is a great comic actor but as a villain in a drama…not so much. Plus…the rationale for him killing his wife is so weak…

               
              • I can’t think of a single new era episode that I’d go out of my way to watch, which is too bad. I love Columbo and was excited when I heard it was coming back. The new era just has too many issues for me.

                 
                  • The Faye Dunaway episode was probably the best of that lot, I just wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it. I thought the production values of the ABC series were just not great and not up to the standards of the NBC years. It was really jokey at times and I didn’t think it did justice to the great Lt. Columbo. The Perry Mason Movie series was much better done although it was a bit too formulaic.

                     
        • Absolutely, I thought that episode was the highlight of Faye Dunaway’s entire career. Not a character you expected to find sympathetic, but you couldn’t help but like her. Columbo Goes to College was also a standout. No other episode made so much fun of Columbo as this one, you might have expected Falk to complain about the script, most actors would not have wanted to be humiliated onscreen as he was. There was a redheaded female police officer in another episode that I liked a lot. I thought she should have been a recurring character. She added the same quality to the program as Faye Dunaway.

           
          • Ah yes, I believe the alluring redhead you refer to was Sergeant Hubach from ‘Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star. The actress (Sondra Currie) also had a small role as one of Wayne Jennings’ love interests in ‘Murder in Malibu’.

             
        • I thought Dunaway gave a terrific performance, but her character hanging all over Columbo gave me the creeps. We all know he’s a happily married man, and I didn’t like seeing her being so seductive with him.

           
          • Columbo was more of the creep in that situation, IMHO. She trying to throw him off in his investigation and was playing him, no doubt, but (even though he was also playing her), I’ll bet Mrs. Columbo most likely would not have approved of his, er, um,investigative techniques. And it sure seemed he was enjoying the sweet nothings in his ear and lip-locking. And I agree — Faye Dunaway was great in this unusual episode.

             
  7. My top 3 at the moment:

    Try and Catch me (Ruth Gordon and the music are great)

    Publish or Perish (Riley Greenleaf!)

    Lady in Waiting

     
    • I’ve never enjoyed Lady in Waiting all that much. Last night we watched, Troubled Waters, which is a current favorite of mine. Actually, with the exception of a very few, all of the classic era episodes are great.

       
    • It is all a matter of personal taste, of course. I would put Requiem for a Falling Star much higher–it is on my “A’ list. John Payne is amazing and Janet Leigh creates so much poignancy for her character and plight. I would also put An Exercise in Fatality higher, as well. I tend to like the episodes where the motive is much clearer and powerful. By contrast, I don’t like the Dick Van Dyck episode as much as the author precisely because there is no motive. If there marriage was so awful, why not just get a divorce? it wasn’t as if the photographer needed the $. And, I think you overrated “A Friend in Deed.” I find Richard Kiley much too theatrical–to showy to be believed. I also didn’t buy that it would be that easy to bring down a commissioner or that he had a clear motive for killing his spouse. I mean…he hated that she gave away his money but really now, wasn’t his huge house big enough. And..Columbo’s grungy new apartment in that rundown neighborhood? Really?

       
      • Errata: I meant “Fallen Lady” not “Requiem for a Fallen Star” which I didn’t think was nearly as good.

         
  8. I’m a relatively new Columbo fan and big agree on the scaling system in terms of “quality and watchable television”. I was surprised to see Bye Bye Sky High up so far but…. yeah, it was awesome.

    … Last Salute to the Commodore is in my *personal* top ten because while it may not be good it IS funny and I lose it just thinking about how all that actually aired on TV.

     
    • “Last Salute” is not in most people’s top 10, but so what? My top episode is one that probably no one else would rank highly, and that’s “Dagger of the Mind.” I absolutely love it even though most rank it very low on the scale. Welcome to the world of Columbo.

       
      • I like “Last Salute” as well for its humor. (Sorry Columbophile moderator–I like it way better than the overrated “Double Exposure” Dick Van Dyke is a good comic actor…he can’t hack serious drama). Great inside joke in “Last Salute” is the reference to the his trainee as “Mac” was right out of the awful “MacMillan and Wife” with Rock Hudson which was another one of the Sunday Mystery movies.

         
        • Please, please, pretty please — I want some of what you were smoking or drinking when you watched the wretched Last Salute. I could use some to maybe have a better take on this nearly unwatchable 90 minutes of airtime. And perhaps whatever substance that you’re ingesting might be could help me see the pandemic in a better light, for that matter.

           
          • I know…it is totally irrational to like “Last Salute” but Falk seems so spaced out and obsessed by all the machinations of the sailing jargon that I found it kind of humorous in a goofy way…

             
            • My wife and I watch the classic era episodes in order on Saturday nights. One per week. When this one comes into play, we just skip it. Not worth it. It seemed like for that season, they were just out of gas and phoned this one in. They apparently had a great time, because I’ve seen that Peter Falk considers it one of his favorites.

               
  9. I have now re-watched all of the original run of Columbo and what a brilliant viewing experience it was. As I finished each episode I read Columbophile’s excellent reviews and enjoyed reading all of the comments as well. It remains my favourite detective show of all time. I have compiled my top 10, a very difficult thing to do when I love so many episodes. So here goes…. In no particular order.

    Suitable For Framing.
    Death Lends a Hand.
    Prescription Murder.
    A Stitch in Crime.
    Negative Reaction.
    By Dawns Early Light.
    A Friend in Deed.
    Candidate For Crime.
    Any Old Port in a Storm.
    A Deadly State of Mind.

    I realise there are no Jack Cassidy episodes in my top 10 (sacrilege!) although I rate all three very highly, also just missing out are Try and Catch Me, An Exercise in Fatality, Make me a Perfect Murder, Identity Crisis, Double Exposure and Troubled Waters.

    Most underrated episodes – Dagger of the Mind and Short Fuse.

    My least favourite episodes –

    Old Fashioned Murder.
    Matter of Honour.
    A case of Immunity.
    Mind over Mayhem.

    and bottom of the list… The Last Salute to the Commodore jeez!

    Favourite season – Series 4 – Every episode a gem.

    Now I just need to work out my favourite episode and cast my vote.

     
    • A great list. Last Salute to the Commodore is at the bottom of everyone’s list (except Peter Falk’s) alongside Dagger of the Mind, which would be in my top 10. Variances on your list for me would be Dagger, Playback, and Troubled Waters and Murder by the Book. So much to choose from! An absolute classic television series. My wife and I watch an episode every Saturday night and just run through the series in order. We watched the new era ABC episodes, but ignore them. Not many measure up to NBC Mystery Movie era Columbo. Great list!

       
      • Thank you. I was brought up watching Columbo and still watch them when I can to this day. I love this blog and reading everybody’s views on the show. Choosing a top 10 was an almost impossible (but very enjoyable) task and I am sure that over the next few months I will change my mind many times. So many great episodes to choose from. I agree with you, I think Dagger is very much underrated. Troubled Waters almost made my top 10, I normally like Columbo when he sticks to Los Angeles but having the entire episode on a cruise liner was a breath of fresh air (no pun intended). Murder by the Book and Now You See Him are also both excellent.

         
  10. What is the best Columbo season?

    I have watched the first 7 seasons Columbo episodes many times. I was feeling that the third season is the best season. I wanted to confirm this with the ratings of Colombophile. Colombophile gave the episodes a grade of A, B, C, D, or Z. So, I gave the ratings of 4 to A episodes and so on. And then calculated the average grade for each season excluding pilot episodes. Colombophile also rated the episodes 1 to 45. I reversed the ratings and gave the first episode 45 points and the last episode 1 point and so on. Then I also calculated the average ratings for each season.

    Here are a few observations:
    Every season has an A level episode.
    Five D level episodes are distributed among 5 seasons.
    Only Season 4 does not have a C or D level episodes.
    Rating are very close for the top three seasons.

    Grade ratings Point Ratings
    Season 4 3.33 28.3
    Season 1 3.14 26.9
    Season 3 3.13 25.6
    Season 2 2.88 21.6
    Season 6 2.67 21.0
    Season 7 2.60 19.0
    Season 5 2.17 16.2

     
    • What is interesting about this is that when Peter Faulk named his 4 favorite episodes 3 were from season 5. I have always thought seasons 3-5 were Columbo at it’s absolute best, with season 3 being the absolute pinnacle for myself. 10 or 11 of my favorite 15 or 20 episodes are between seasons 3-5. For me personally season 2 was the weakest season overall. The reasons for this were mostly the scoring and production design. Season 2 seemed to be a transition year between the fantastic yet uneven season 1 and the absolutely stellar season 3.

       
  11. I think Columbophile is mostly spot on, but I never understood his unrequited love for Suitable for Framing, Just a good episode, not a top ten. Can’t rank an episode so high just for the gotcha moment when Ross Martin is in no ways a memorable Columbo villain. I would remove this episode, plus Double Shock and Try and Catch Me outside Now you See Him and just move everything up. This is coming from someone who actually watched the episodes as they were first unveiled.

     
    • Sorry, upon further review I would put all three of those episodes I want moved out side the top ten after where Columbophile has Any Old Port in A Storm rated.

       
      • We all have favorites that most others would disagree with. “Dagger of the Mind” is a favorite of mind, and it’s been clear from many comments on here that I am in the minority on that. “Suitable for Framing” is a good episode. The finish is one of the best. Ross Martin is truly deplorable. If not a top ten, it’s certainly top 15.

         
      • Now you see him was excellent, although not as good as “Murder by the Book”, another Jack Cassidy episode.

         
        • For me, Murder by the Book, while excellent, is my least favorite Jack Cassidy episode behind Now You See Him and Publish or Perish. But, all Cassidy episodes are top 10, IMHO.

           
  12. Saturday Night is Columbo night at our house. We watch them in order and are watching “Lady in Waiting” now. It’s good but I don’t think it’s a top tier episode. I’d put it in with the c ranked episodes. Leslie Nielsen is particularly good in this one, I will say. And it was cool seeing Barbara Rhodes (she was in Ellery Queen and McMillan and Wife and so many other things- a true tv legend) and Marcia Wallace. A good episode, not a great one.

     
        • Clay Morrow… I still remember learning that Jack Cassidy had died. He was a great Columbo villain and a really talented actor. It was sad that he was so self destructive a person. Bi Polar as I understand it and untreated as well. It was sad that he was so jealous of David and Shaun and couldn’t appreciate their success.

           
          • Jack also very resentful of the fact that both his wife and son were bigger stars than he was. Shirley was an Oscar winner and David was bigger than sliced bread in the early 70’s.

             
        • He was apparently a bipolar alcoholic, according to his Wiki. Maybe that is why his son had the same problem.

           
          • Jack Cassidy was a brilliant actor but personally, he was a hostile, degenerate creep. The classic scene in the parking lot where he causes the car accident and verbally abuses the older couple, that was NOT acting. All Jack had to do in that one was be himself. His jealousy of the success of David and Shawn was just sad.

             
        • Does anyone remember Cassidy playing a supporting role as an egotistic actor (typecasting, anyone?) in the series “He and She” with Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss? I thought he was hilarious in that. I wonder if that character might have been a model for Ted Baxter in the Mary Tyler Moore show. Ted Knight does resemble Cassidy in some ways.

           
          • Funny you should mention Ted Baxter (Ted Knight). In one episode, Jack Cassidy guest stars as as Ted’s insanely egotistical brother who goes out on a date with Rhoda (Valerie Harper) while Mary pretends to be Ted’s girlfriend

             
            • Wow, I don’t remember that one! Funny! I guess I’m not the only one who thought there was a resemblance.

               
      • Last night I watched Now You See Him for the first time (am watching all Columbia in chronology order for the first time) and as the episode finished, I pronounced it the best one!

         
      • You shouldn’t have. It’s easily better than Suitable for Framing (which you have an unhealthy obsession with), Double Shock and Try and Catch Me.

         
        • suitable for framing has an excellent gotcha , up there with the best ,CP claims the very best and its hard to disagree with , explosive start , double murder excellent musical score etc and is very good on the whole
          But I m not so captivated by it and its more of a top 20 than a top 10 for me.

           
          • Personal taste is fickle. I would not put the Dick Van Dyke episode (Van Dyke is.a comic actor, not a dramatic one and the motive for killing is wife was unconvincing) or “A Friend in Deed” (Robert Kiley overacts and it is much harder than the episode showed to take down a police commissioner) or the last Jack Cassidy where he is The Great Santini (not convincing that he is a great magician) on my top 10 list but I would put “Suitable for Framing.” My top ten would include the Trish Van Deveare and the Janet Leigh/John Payne episodes, the latter of which I would put in my Top 3.

             
            • Yes it is fickle. One of my favorites is Dagger of the Mind, which most fans rank very low on the list on this site. The Trish Van Devere episode is one of my least favorites, but I agree with you on Dick Van Dyke. He did a good job on it, and the ending is pretty good but overall, I don’t think it’s one of the best episodes either. Richard Kiley just didn’t have a strong enough motive for murder. Yes, he wanted the money, but his wife seemingly allowed him the freedom to play around, so why did he need to put it all on the line as he did?

               
              • Green and arrogance are VERY strong motivators in that combination together! The greed of wanting ALL the money and the arrogance of believing you’re going to outsmart everyone and not get caught. Happens all the time in the real world!

                 
                • The problems for me with “A Friend in Deed” are this: 1) Richard Kiley overacts. 2) It is very hard to take down a Police Commissioner and the idea that Columbo can do it with assistance of other cops is hard to imagine 3) It is hard to believe that a police lieutenant would live in such a shabby apartment with his wife in run-down neighborhood and that he would have moved that week.

                   
                  • He didn’t live there. He rented it to trick the commissioner into thinking his target lived there. He put the address on the fake report to rope him in, but he didn’t live there.

                     
                    • No, I think you are incorrect. Columbo said that he lived there and had just moved in…and he had all his clothes and his wife’s clothes in the dresser.

                       
                    • It was a setup. He said he had the report with the suspects name on it with that address. He didn’t really live there. He put things in place to be able to “demonstrate” he “lived” there but it was all to justify the report that enticed the commissioner to go plant the evidence.

                       

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